Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wheat procurement delay hurts farmers in Sindh

By Saleem Shaikh

KARACHI: Despite passage of the Sindh Food Department’s deadline, wheat buying activity has not started in most of the wheat growing districts of the province so far. However, the wheat farmers have undesirably started selling their produce to the middlemen and local traders.

On March 17, the food department had announced March 20 for launching wheat procurement in 15 wheat growing districts and that all necessary arrangements in this regard were made.

The food department spokesman said that 365 wheat buying centres have been set up to procure 1.3 million tons wheat.

But, wheat growers said that no such arrangements are visible anywhere in the wheat growing districts.

They also said that farmers, who have cleared their lands of wheat crop, visited food offices in their respective districts for obtaining jute bags came back empty handed.

Such unfavourable situation leaves the growers, particularly small ones, at the mercy of middlemen and traders, who exploit such situations in their favour.

Reports obtained from wheat growers indicated that wheat harvesting has begun from February 15 in Umkerkot, Badin, Mirpurkhas and parts of Sanghar.

But, absence of food officials, non-functional procurement centres and unavailability of jute bags has disheartened the wheat growers, who showed robust performance in wheat cultivation.

Nabi Bux, additional general secretary of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture, said: “It has really disappointed wheat farmers that no efforts had been made by the food officials for setting up the wheat pick-up centres in the harvesting areas.”

Delay in wheat procurement hurts small farmers in many ways, who need to sell their farm produce as timely as possible.

Persisting uncertain situation in the province with regard to the Sindh government’s wheat procurement drive has paved the way for middlemen, hoarders and profiteers to capitalise the opportunity in their favour by purchasing wheat from farmers at the rates below the government support price.

Actually, these small farmers cannot hold back their harvested wheat for more than few weeks because of inadequate storage capacity. Holding the new wheat stocks until the government initiates procurement is not financially viable for them either.

By selling their produce, the wheat farmers do need to clear their debts, prepare their lands and buy farm inputs for the next crops to be on time, as a better crop performance is entirely reliant on timely sowing.

Many believe that unavailability of jutes bags had made the food department delay wheat buying.

Officials in the provincial food department said that procurement of jute bags had been put off for the time being due to imposition of 17 per cent General Sales Tax (GST) and 2.5 per cent Special Excise Duty (SED) on jute bags following presidential ordinance on March 15.

A senior official recalled that a tender had been floated on January 29 of this year for procuring 10 million bags, which were to be distributed among the wheat growers for wheat packing. But, there had been no progress on it.

“The jute mills had locked their minimum prices in their biddings against the tenders before the GST and SED. However, the 19.5 per cent duty has delayed the food department to respond to the tender biddings filed by the jute millers. This is a major reason behind the department’s inability to purchase the jute bags and make them available at the procurement centers,” he pointed out.

The jute bag dealers, who filed their biddings, have asked the food department to reconsider the prices as the same were agreed on the basis of zero per cent tax applicable at that time, he said further.

Sources in the food department, who preferred anonymity, said that although the jute bags are ready for delivery, the food department is yet to respond to the jute millers on the matter of jute bag procurement. However, they have suggested that the issued could be resolved by exempting the commodity from these new duties of 19.5 per cent to start procuring the wheat without any late.

Meanwhile, undue delay in the launching of wheat buying drive has also cast negative impact on the wheat prices in the local market.

According to wheat traders, arrival of wheat in bulk quantity in main urban grain markets from rural areas has pushed down the prices of the last year’s wheat in the grain markets.

Khair Mohammad, former president of the Larkana Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), told this scribe that the prices of the previous year’s wheat in the commodity market had fallen down sharply by Rs250-Rs300 per 100kg bag during last two weeks.

“Some two weeks back a sack of 100kg wheat bag was trading between Rs2,700 to Rs2,800 in the open market in different wheat growing districts. But, the same wheat bag is available for Rs2,400,” he detailed.

Wheat traders fear that falling wheat price trend, triggered off by glut of new wheat in the grain markets, might decline further to Rs2,100/100kg bag in next 10 to 15 days, if the provincial food department did not begin the wheat procurement.

Amid the falling grain prices on new supplies, the flour millers have also pulled down the flour prices. A 10 kilogramme flour bag, which sold for around Rs320 during third week of March, was selling for Rs300.

According to agriculture department, wheat sowing in the province has touched 11,00,000 hectares against target of 10,31,000 hectares and it hoped the wheat output will be around 3.8 million tons as against 3.682 million tons target.

Provincial agriculture officials said that despite every difficulty, farmers sown bumper wheat. But, lax attitude of food department regarding wheat buying activity has come as dampener for them (farmers), as they were hoping this season timely wheat procurement by the food department.

“Fruits of bumper wheat output, he warned, would go down the drain, if provincial food department failed to set up wheat pick-up centres without any delay,” Sindh Agriculture Secretary Agha Jan Akhtar warned.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Water woes in Karachi

By Saleem Shaikh | DAWN.COM

KARACHI: Lack of a continuous supply of water is one of the major problems the residents of Karachi have to deal with. An irregular supply of water to homes and industrial areas has also hampered socio-economic activities, resulting in slow or reduced productivity.

Home to around 18 million people, the residents of the city require clean, safe water – fit for consumption. And a lot of it. What is more exasperating for the locals is that a solution to this critical problem remains low on the list of priorities for the government. Unfortunately, urban water supply has steadily gotten worse over the years. The current situation calls for creating awareness for, and promotion of, efficient use and conservation of water.

Reports indicate that water is supplied to these hapless consumers is insufficient and contaminated, which is not fit for drinking. According to health experts, around 30,000 people, most of them children, die each year in the city due to consumption of contaminated water.

The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) is solely responsible for municipal water supply and the management of waste water as well as sewerage in the city. To be specific, potable water supply, its bulk transmission, primary, secondary and tertiary distribution, enactment of tariff and recovery of revenues, operation and maintenance of the supply, disposal of waste-water as well as supply of water through tankers for emergency purposes are key components of the services extended by the KWSB.

However, a decline in the KWSB’s institutional capacities to manage its aging operational systems, imbalance in the supply and demand, dilapidated water distribution networks, decaying pumping machines, soaring incidents of water theft and leakages in the supply lines, increasing dependence on water vendors and inappropriate as well as imprudent tariff structures are, among others, pressing problems which have created impediments in the overall performance of the KWSB.

“Several solutions have been proposed in the past by water experts at different forums and conveyed to the government officials, but such efforts have failed for reasons unknown,” says Mumtaz Khaskheli, an expert on potable water and sanitation.

“Recent changes initiated by the government such as the commercialisation of entire beaches, real-estate development and real-estate schemes along highways have also exerted an enormous pressure on demand for safe water. In addition, formal and informal settlements have also increased the demand for a continuous water supply,” says Gulshan Shaikh, a sub-engineer of the KWSB.

Members of the Hisaar Foundation in Karachi, a civil society organisation involved in promoting the conservation of water, estimate that around 40 per cent of the water in the city is wasted due to leakages in the supply lines and another 25 per cent is wasted by consumers in form of leaky taps, washing cars, watering their gardens, etc.

However, it is not just health problems that are associated with unclean water.

“Lack of access to water for both domestic and drinking purposes has proved to be an additional economic burden on the earnings of low-income households. And this is so because they usually end up paying 12 times the price for drinking water than what people from higher-income brackets pay,” claims a member of the Hisaar Foundation.

“We haven’t been getting water through the official supply for many years, although I regularly pay the KWSB water tax,” complains Ameena Batool, a housewife from eastern Karachi. In order to meet the daily water needs of the household, she pays about Rs 500 – 600 a week for water from a tanker.

Because of poor maintenance, the municipal water supply and related facilities have become grossly inadequate with regard to users’ needs and expectations. Dwellers of the low-income group areas and katchi abadis, who cannot afford to pay the cost of private tankers, have no choice but to consume sub-soil, unhygienic water.

“The operators of private tankers have taken undue advantage of the situation and have increased their rates; we pay Rs1,200 for a 1,000-gallon tanker and Rs 2,000 for a tanker carrying 2,000 gallons of water,” claim several residents across the city.

And it isn’t just the residents are suffer from the water shortfall, industries have suffered just as much.

Haji Ahmed Raza owns a large chemical factory in the Korangi Industrial Area. According to Raza, industrial units are forced to buy from water tankers on a regular basis to meet the demands of the factory. He also claimed that these water tankers have capitalised on the current shortage.

“I pay around Rs 17,000-20,000 a day to those who supply water through tankers to run the factory,” said Raza

Officials in the KWSB stated that there are currently around 150 illegal hydrants drawing water from its main pipelines which are not just a major reason for an acute water shortage in the city, but also causes a massive revenue loss of over Rs 1.3 billion annually to the water board.

“A large number of illegal hydrants have been set up in different parts of the city, which is where a large-scale theft of over 30 million gallons of water occurs each day from the KWSB’s various pipelines. This is mostly done in connivance with low-ranking staff of the KWSB and the concerned area police,” a senior KWSB official said, who preferred to remain anonymous.

Describing the private hydrants and tanker business as a ‘roaring business’, an engineer (bulk water) at the KWSB, claimed that around 30,000 ‘illegally-operating’ tankers [of 1,000 gallons each] were earning around Rs 4-5 million daily.

“Since the private hydrants and tanker mafias are stealing water from the KWSB pipelines, the utility is losing an estimated Rs120-150 million every month,” he said.

Some officials in the KWSB, however, believe that much of the water supply and demand can be met if the current water supply and sewerage infrastructure is revamped. “The water transmission and distribution lines were mostly installed during the ’60s and ’70s, and have completed their designed life. Replacing such lines that are faulty, will help reduce water wastage,” remarked a spokesman of the KWSB.

However, the current water shortage is also due to the performance level and financial strength of the KWSB which has deteriorated consistently over the years. Corrective measures have been taken at different points in the past to fix the operational, institutional and water-supply capacity problems of the KWSB, but such measures have been rejected by some unscrupulous elements, recalled an official at the public health engineering department of the Sindh government.

“Foreign multi-lateral lending agencies introduced various reforms, but they failed to meet the stipulated objectives. Some of the proposed approaches aimed at improving the KWSB’s institutional performance included the privatisation of the utility and subsequent institutional reforms,” he said.

The official, wanting to remain anonymous, recalled how the ‘Private Sector Participation’ (PSP) strategy which was introduced in 1995 to make the KWSB economically, functionally and managerially viable and sustainable, was put on the back burner due to resistance within the organisation.

“In 2005, technical assistance was also sought from the UNDP under the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme for South Asia (WSP-SA) and even a consultative process was initiated to identify and address the pressing issues faced by KWSB. But matters were left halfway because of the then Sindh government’s apathy,” claims a senior planning official in the provincial finance department.

Water experts say that at a time when fresh water resources are fast depleting and its availability to the people plummeting, revamping the KWSB and the way it functions as a whole is the need of the hour. The replacement of the water supply infrastructure in the metropolis and adjoining suburbs is equally critical for conservation and an efficient use of water.

Rise in input prices impact cotton crop

By Saleem Shaikh
Daily Dawn
March 21, 2011

THE final phutti picking concluded in Sindh last month, showing a crop output lower than targeted by the provincial government.

The overall production of the crop in the province is estimated at around 3.5368 million bales as against the target of 4.2 million bales. The drop is attributed mainly to reduced area under cotton cultivation, down by 193,000 hectares to 457,000 against the target of 650,000 hectares.

According to the Pakistan Cotton Ginners Association (PCGA), the overall phutti production in Sindh during the season stood at 3.785 million bales.

Agriculture officials link shortfall in sowing of 193,000 hectares to increase in prices of farm inputs. However, most of such land in cotton growing areas was not brought under cultivation of any other crop due to soaring cost of seed, fertiliser and other inputs, they said.

Nevertheless, the 2010 crop showed good performance in terms of yield, which proved helpful in bringing the output closer to the production target.

Agriculture officials said an average yield of 32.9 maunds per hectare had been achieved against the target of 27.475 maunds. Reports of 60-70 maunds per acre also came from areas having good quality of soil, where better farm inputs were available, and proper land preparation was made.

In 2009, cotton in Sindh was sown over 634,700 hectares as against the target of 650,000. The yield stood at around 4.27 million bales against the target of 3.25 million.

Sowing of BT cotton seed was the major cause of surplus phutti production in 2009. As prices of BT cotton seed and other farm inputs increased exorbitantly this year, cotton sowing suffered. The BT seed available at Rs150-200 per kg in 2009 was sold between Rs700-800 per kg in 2010.

The prices of urea and DAP fertilisers in 2009 were Rs700-750 and Rs2,400-2,800 per bag respectively. These were now selling at Rs1,200 and Rs3,400-3,500 per bag respectively. This surge in prices of farm inputs was the major cause of reduced cotton cultivation in the province.

“Because of substantial increase in prices of farm inputs, many growers could not bring their lands under cotton cultivation, which is evident in the decline in its acreage,” said Hubdar Ali, a senior agriculture official.

Situation arising out of the increase in urea prices by producers and black-marketing by dealers are worrying the poor farmers, particularly the smaller ones.

“The uncalled for hike in prices of farm inputs has made it difficult for growers to use the required quantity of seeds, fertilisers and other inputs,” remarked Sindh Chamber of Agriculture officials.

They further said that farming community had already reverted to the use of cattle dung and the refuse available with the sugar mills as fertiliser.

Phutti farmers indicated that in most areas growers had sown cotton in July instead of March due to water shortage. According sowing calendar of the provincial agriculture department, cotton sowing should be completed between April and May. Besides shortage of irrigation water, non-availability of quality seed, fertiliser and adulterated pesticides are the major reasons behind late sowing and output shortfalls.

Agriculture experts say that Phutti sown in June shows substantial fall in per acre yield and becomes prone to viral attacks. They say that different research studies have found that inadequate irrigation supplies, late sowing and application of uncertified fertiliser and pesticides often lead to poor cotton yield or make the crop susceptible to a host of viral and pest attacks.

The same happened with the cotton crop of last Kharif season. Leaf curl virus, pest attacks and reddening of leaves affected the crop, particularly in central and lower Sindh’s cotton growing areas. Besides, shedding of flower also affected the ball setting in plants resulting in loss of first and second pickings, which account for around 65 per cent phutti output.

Most of the farmers, mainly small ones, had no choice but to purchase farm inputs of whatever quality was available in local markets. Small farmers do not have cash and buy farm inputs on credit with very little say in the quality of the inputs.

“Last month more than 230 bags of adulterated DAP were confiscated during raid on a godown in Sanghar district.

Similar raids were also made in districts in January and February this year, from where complaints against sale of impure and counterfeit farm inputs came frequently,” said a senior official in the agriculture department.

He told this scribe that the department had approached the manufacturers to sell farm inputs only to registered dealers.

Farmers, however, warned that the falling trend in cotton output might continue in the coming years, if illegal trading of bogus farm inputs continued unchecked.

They have urged the government to ensure availability of pure farm inputs at fair prices and create awareness among cotton growers for maximising productivity.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Discovery of artisan well ushers in new era in Tharparkar

By Saleem Shaikh,

March 17, 2011

Fifty-year-old herdsman Mohammad Siddiqui resides in bordering village of Somosama near Khokhrapar north of Umerkot town of Tharparkar district. Every morning he used to move around along with his cattle in the area in search of water for them, some times as far as 20 kilometres. It was very rare that he would find sweet and fresh water in the area.

“Because of protracted drought spells with scarce rainfalls in the district, water level in most of the dug wells of his village, like any another villages, has decreased as much as 700-800 feet, which is usually brought out by means of pulley for domestic purposes,” Mohammad Siddiqui narrated.

But discovery of the weird ‘artisan well’ in Somosama villager, which gushes out an average of 3,84,000 gallons of water daily without any external pumping machine, has cheered up many aggrieved locals like Mohammd Siddiqui.

During a recent visit to the area, this scribe witnessed expressions of delight on faces of the locals and cattle breeders, who were seen huddling their cattle herds now in large multitudes towards the artisan well site from nearby and far-off villages for water.

Some herdsmen say that they bring their cattle daily to the artisan well from faraway villages, some of them located at a distance of 20-22 kilometres, as underground water in their villages is saline and brackish and has been causing serious diseases in their livestock.

“I bring my goats and sheep, which number 53, from Khokhrapar area some 22 kilometres east of the Somosama village as some 23 out of 28 dug wells in my village have brackish water, while level of water of the remaining five has drastically decreased and are on the verge of drying up,” said 33-year-old Hasim.

Forty-year-old Qadir Bux is another herdsman, who lives in the Somosama village and owns some 155 cattle heads. He says this is first of its kind that such an artisan well has been discovered in the entire Tharparkar district.

The healthy water for livestock

The locals observed the water of this artisan well has improved health of the livestock, particularly camels as they have shown improvement in their health faster than any other cattle.

“Milk quality of almost all the cattle including goat, sheep and cows has significantly improved as their milk is now thicker. And, fur of the sheep has turned shiner after they have started consuming the water of the artisan well,” observed camel breeder Qadir Bux.

Most of the dug wells in the surrounding villages of the Tharparkar district are dug as deep as 60-70 metres, but their water being brackish is extremely injurious to health. Therefore, rain water is harvested in small earthen pots with narrow holes for drinking purposes but it hardly lasts for three to four months.

The dry spell in Thar normally extends from the month of December and continues up to May. And during the drought season, most of the villagers of the Tharparkar district temporarily migrate along with their livestock to distant barrage areas and return when it rains.

Destinations are different for the people of various ecological zones. But generally the migratory farm labour from Thar prefers to go to Umerkot, Mirpurkhas, Badin, Hyderabad, Sanghar and Nawabshah districts, where they have enough water for their livestock and labour work in farming lands for their livelihood, informed Dr. Khataumal a local development expert of Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP) based in Mithi, district headquarter of the Tharparkar district.

He said that the major source of livelihood for locals in Thar is livestock breeding and rain-fed farming. “Therefore, any outbreak of disease in livestock, which mostly occurs from consumption of contaminated or highly brackish water of the dug wells, leads to their death in huge number. It results in a huge financial loss for the locals,” he remarked.

Sono Khangharani, CEO of TRDP, said that initially, the well was bored as deep as 700 feet but its water was extremely brackish and smelly. It was of no use for livestock or locals. Later, on the insistence of villagers, who believed that underground fresh water is present 1,350 feet deep in the village, we resumed boring further deeper as down as 1,300 deep, using heavy drilling machines at a cost of Rs2.2 million.

“But, when the boring machine struck at 1,300 feet depth, all of a sudden water came gushing out and the villagers, whose hopes were on the verge of waning, burst into jubilation,” he recalled.

Talking about the impact of artisan well’s water quality and its impact on cattle, TRDP’s senior manager for development works, engineer Jhaman, termed the artisan well’s water not fit for human consumption because its’ Parts Per Million (PPM) ratio is around 3,500 while allowable PPM ratio under WHO standards is 500.

“Although locals use this water also for their drinking, it is better to desalinate it to avoid any serious repercussions on human health,” he suggested.

The water of the artisan well is rich in sulphur; that is why, its usage for the livestock has helped reduced their skin diseases,” informed Jhaman Lalchandani.

Recently, an R.O. (water desalination) Plant has been established by the Sindh Coal Authority adjacent to the artisan well, with a capacity of desalinating 50,000 gallon water per day.

Once the R.O. plant starts functioning, the desalination water would usher in a new era of socioeconomic development in the area as it could also be used for agriculture purposes and breeding of healthy livestock, hoped Narumal, a rural development expert in Thar.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cattle in Sindh hit by viral diseases

By Saleem Shaikh

March 14, 2011

THE outbreak of viral diseases among livestock in Tharparkar, Umerkot, Sanghar and Naushero Feroze districts is assuming serious proportions because of lack of prompt remedial measures by the concerned provincial department.

According to cattle farmers, large number goats, sheep, cows, buffaloes and camels have been hit by viral diseases in central and lower districts of Sindh.

Livestock executive district officers confirmed that they have received reports of Peste des petits ruminants (PPR) disease in goats and sheep, Haloragis in camels and foot and mouth disease among other animals.

“Reports of rising death toll of animals have been received from various areas of Tharparkar, Umerkot, Achro Thar (White Thar) in Sanghar and Naushero Feroz districts. Besides, adjoining districts are also said to be at risk, if officials concerned do not quickly respond to the situation,” said Bachal, a cattle farmer in Samoo Rind village of Umerkot.

“In Nagarparkar in Tharparkar district, scores of animals have been killed during the last three months,” said Santosh Kumar, a veterinary doctor in the town.

He told this scribe that some 10 weeks ago camels started contracting mouth disease in different parts of Tharparkar and Umerkot districts. “Once these animals fall prey to such diseases, they stop eating as their mouth bleeds and they die in three to four days,” Kumar explained.

Deputy Director Livestock Dr Rasheed Nizamani said that according to the livestock census 2006 there are around 6.925 million cattle heads in Sindh, nearly 60 per cent (4.155 million) of them in Tharparkar district alone.

The livestock of the province is growing at an average rate of 2.3 to 2.7 per cent annually following increased investment in the livestock sector, claims Dr Ghulam Sarwar Shaikh, director general Sindh Livestock.

Karimdad Rahimo of Haji Adam Ji Dhani village in Sanghar district recalls: “In January this year the livestock heads, particularly the young and newborn ones, started suffering from diarrhoea, sheep pox, pneumonia and other diseases and on an average five to eight cattle heads died every day.”

The village people said that their cattle was also affected by sore mouth suffered from bluetongue and diarrhea. These diseases caused their animals to bleed, suffer abdominal pain and resulted in their death within three to four days.

However, no vaccination by livestock department officials had been carried out in their area so far, some of them complained.

Situation in other parts of east-southern districts is not different either, where cattle death toll is rising.

Villagers of the Achhro Thar told this scribe over phone that about 133 goats, 1,121 sheep, 23 cows and 29 camels had died during the last three months in Sobharo, Janhaar, Thoorahoo, Maankor and adjoining villages.

“Most of the areas in Tharparkar and Umerkot, Sanghar and Naushero Feroz are without any or proper veterinary facilities.

Their absence results economic miseries of livestock breeders, who are compelled to transport their livestock to private veterinary facilities in Thatta, Badin and Hyderabad for treatment. In some cases, private vets are also called in from these areas to visit the disease-hit villages who charge the livestock owners heavily,” said Ali Akbar Rahimo, an Umerkot-based cattle farming expert.

“My 53 goats and kids suffered from diarrhoea, sore mouth and bluetongue diseases and a few of them died two weeks back. The infected goats bleed from mouth, remain lazy and do not eat or drink anything and after getting weaker die in one or two days,” said Ali Jalal of Samo Rind village in Umerkot district.

Mehar Ali Samoo of Kasboo area in Nagarparkar said he had lost 25 goats so far to the bluetongue viral disease. However, getting no help from taluka livestock officials, I had to take my cattle to private veterinary hospital in Badin, where I was charged Rs900 per visit. In addition, I had to spend about Rs4,300 for transporting the cattle and buying medicines.

The livestock officials in the districts said they lacked funds and required facilities to fight the diseases which prevented them from visiting the affected areas.

Umerkot EDO( agriculture and livestock) Ghulamullah Jarwar said he had dispatched some teams to the affected areas to study the problem, diagnose them and vaccinate the infected animals accordingly.

“The outbreak of the disease is a common phenomenon after rains in Thar region, which was controllable after vaccination,” he said.

He, however, hoped the problem would be brought under control soon by launching vaccination drive in the affected areas.

Livestock officials in Umerkot, Sangahr and Naushero Feroz districts attributed inadequate funds and lack of transport facilities as major constraints in delivery of their services to viral-hit cattle farmers.

“We have written to the provincial government to provide vet diagnosis kits, medicines, vaccinations and funds to strengthen the laboratories in different districts, particularly in Tharparkar, Umerkot and Badin districts to overcome the livestock diseases and save them from death, said Dr. Rashid Nizamani.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Wholesale sugar prices down Rs2 in Karachi market

By Saleem Shaikh | DAWN.COM

KARACHI: The wholesale price of 100 kilogramme sugar bag has declined by Rs200 to Rs6,300 here in the wholesale commodity market as new supplies from the producing areas has started to land in the wholesale market.

Chairman wholesale Grossers association, Aneed Majeed has confirmed the reports of decline in sweetner’s prices on new supplies.

The sweetener, which was selling at Rs65 per kilogramme in the wholesale market, is now being traded at Rs63.

Secretary General of the Karachi Retailers Grocers Group, Fareed Qureshi, said that while sugar is selling at present between Rs66 to Rs68 in the retail market, it is hoped that impact of sugar price fall will be seen shortly.

“Benefit of the recent fall in the sugar prices will be transferred to the retail customers, once the supplies of the commodity from wholesale market at new prices reach the retail markets.

He hoped, however, that fall in retail sugar price is possible by Rs2.

It may be mentioned here that the sugar prices in the wholesale market had increased by Rs2/kilogramme to Rs6,300 per 100kg sugar bag on reports of government’s decision on March 9 to withdrew 50 per cent sales tax relief on the commodity.

During his press conference in Islamabad on March 9, Federal Board of Revenue Chairman Salman Siddique had said that the government had halved the sales tax rate in order to provide some relief to the consumers when sugar prices skyrocketed about one and a half years ago.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Rainwater harvesting in parched Tharparkar

By Saleem Shaikh

THE Tharparkar district receives on an average 100mm rain every year, which should be sufficient for its drinking and agriculture purposes. But much of it goes waste due to lack of rainwater harvesting and poor water conservation facilities.

During August last year heavy rains in the Thar Desert recharged parched shallow wells, raised water table in deep wells and filled household cisterns. But, after four months, the Tharis were without sufficient water even for drinking, and many had to walk miles to fetch water. Herdsmen had to take their livestock to barrage areas to avoid mortality among them due to water shortage.

“When it rained heavily, it turned our dusty and arid villages in the district into an oasis with lush green foliage and plenty of water to drink and take bath. It also turned our dried-up rangeland into green meadows and pastures for our cattle. But the accumulated rainwater evaporated within a few months and we had to walk for 4-5 miles thrice a week to fetch water from deep wells. Water of such wells is brackish, contaminated and injurious to both humans` and animals` health,” said Ali Akbar Rahimo of the Association for Water, Applied Education and Renewable Energy in Nagarparkar.

Thar normally experiences drought every third year and famine after each decade, triggering mass migration of peasants to irrigated areas in lower and central Sindh in search of fodder, labour and water. A large number of cattle also die during such arduous journeys.

According to a study of the Pakistan Council for Research on Water Resources (PCRWR), the entire Thar Desert receives around one trillion litres of rain annually “ sufficient, if stored, for three years to meet domestic water needs of the Tharis and their livestock. But, more than 95 per cent of it is lost under sand dunes or evaporates in the sizzling summer due to inadequate storage and rainwater harvesting facilities.

“Even if 0.25 per cent of the rainwater is conserved or harvested, it can meet the domestic water needs of the entire human population and livestock of the area,” said water conservation experts of the PCRWR.

The councils` study found out that hardly 0.06 per cent of the overall annual rain water is harvested by Tharis in household cisterns or in other indigenous ways. However, the study suggests that the water shortage problem can be addressed by improving capacity of rainwater harvest by scaling it up from 0.06 per cent to at least 0.25 per cent of the rainfall.

The Tharparkar district, spread over nearly 22,000 square kilometers, is a chronically poor with an estimated population of 1.2-1.3 million. Of them, 95 per cent people live in and around 2,000 villages.

In a normal day, members of each household spends around 4-6 hours in fetching 4-5 pots (50-60 litters) of water from wells However during the dry season they collect water throughout the day including at nights.

However, rains in Thar invigorate socio-economic activities as people start cultivating crops, bringing back their livestock in herds from barrage areas and storing rainwater as much as possible.

Usually Tharis prepare their fields every year much before the rainy season starts by ploughing and broadcasting seeds of millet (bajhri), cluster bean (guar), sesame (tir), kidney bean (mooth), cow peas (Choonra), musk melon (gidro), water melon (hindano), squash melon (meho), wild cucumber (chibbhar), amaranths (mariro), digeria (lular) and other wild plants. The land in Thar is so fertile that once the ploughed fields receive the first shower, they turn green.

Prior to the rains, the Tharis also clean ditches and depressions locally known as Tal and Tarayoon for storing rainwater.

This water is used both for domestic and drinking purposes.

But, the accumulated rainwater in these ditches and depressions lasts only for three to four months. And for the rest of the eight months of the year, they depend on brackish water of wells, which results in health hazards among humans and livestock.

Often the outbreak of diseases among livestock deepens poverty situation in Thar manifold, as livelihood of the poor 70 per cent depends on livestock rearing.

Mukesh Suther, an Umerkot-based rainwater conservation expert, remarked that “building large ponds and laying a geo-membrane sheet under these (ponds) to stop seepage and covering them with roofs can be of great help in slowing down evaporation of stored rain water during the sizzling summer days.”

He said the government should introduce these low-cost techniques to harvest huge stocks of water, which can help meet needs of the people throughout the year rather than spending millions of rupees on schemes, which have huge recurring costs for maintenances.

Water conservation experts of PCRWR have suggested that piped roof water harvesting, hamlet level chonra pond, hamlet level nadi pond, chalho pond and dug well recharging system could help conserve huge stock of rainwater. But, introduction and promotion of such water conservation techniques was not possible without one time investment by the government.

A senior official in the water section of the Sindh Planning and Development (P&D) Department said: “Although no initiative for rainwater harvesting in Thar has ever been launched by the provincial government, multi-million rupees schemes for tapping rainwater in the desert area are now under consideration of the department`s planners.

There is possibility that such schemes may be included in the next year`s Annual Development Programme (ADP).”


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Virus hits 40pc mango orchards in Sind

By Saleem Shaikh

March 06, 2011

KARACHI, March 5: Mango orchards on thousands of acres in Sindh have come under different viral disease attack.

The growers said that a large mango growing area has already been cleared to prevent the spread of disease. The situation is reported to be more serious in Hyderabad, Tando Allahyar, Shaheed Benazirabad, Matiari, Naushero Feroz, Sangarh and Umerkot districts.

Officials in the Plant Protection wing of the Sindh agriculture department confirmed reports of viral attack. At present, more than 40 per cent orchards are infected. They feared significant losses to the mango production this year.

Growers have complained that the official did not offer any help to fight the virus on their mango orchards.

“I have visited the office of EDO agriculture Matiari several times to seek their help to control the problem and save other nearby orchards, but the response was very poor,” said Nabi Khan Samejo, a prominent mango grower.

“No estimates about the total damage to the crop are available but it has become a limiting factor in many mango-growing areas,” said a senior official in the agriculture department`s extension wing.

Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA) said that because of frequent viral attacks province`s overall mango output and its share in export would decline significantly.

Mango is cultivated in the province on around 56,000 hectares, with annual production of some 390,000 tons, according to provincial agriculture department`s statistics.

“But, mango crop this year is likely to post 30-40 per cent fall in the production due to the disease,” said mango growers.

They said it was intriguing that pest or viral attacks on mango orchards were more frequent in the province but there was no testing laboratory, where the mango growers could get help for overcoming the disease.

Mango grower Naveed Rahimo in Naushero Feroz said there was only one testing laboratory in Lahore, but it is very difficult to send samples of virus or disease-hit mango trees there and get the problem diagnosed.

Muhammad Afzal Arain, director Nuclear Institute for Agriculture, Tando Jam said two plant pathology laboratories have been established at the institute, where samples of the affected mango trees are being tested.

Former director Agriculture Research Institute in Tando Jam, Dr Abdul Sattar Buriro said that since the mango orchards were given on contracts to private investors, reports of viral attacks have become more frequent.

They do not invest in proper care of the orchards, he lamented.

He urged the farmers to avoid contracting their mango orchards and properly look after their gardens by ensuring proper irrigation and balanced nutrients.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Govt urged to set up wheat buying centres

By Saleem Shaikh

Daily Dawn

KARACHI, Feb 28: Wheat harvesting has started in lower Sindh districts but the government has not yet set up procurement centres.

According to the information gathered from the growers the harvesting began from February 15, in Umerkot, Badin, Mirpurkhas and some parts of Sanghar districts. The harvesting in central Sindh is also picking up.

The province is likely to have bumper wheat crop, but the key challenge for the provincial food department would be to procure the grain on time.

The delay in procurement hurts small farmers as they are compelled to sell their produce to the middlemen and the traders at a price below the official support price, said Amin Memon, chairman Lower Sindh Growers Association.

Sindh Chamber of Agriculture official Nabi Bux said that no efforts had been made by the food department to arrange gunny bags and setting up wheat picking centres in the lower Sindh.

Secretary Agriculture Agha Jan Akhtar said that wheat sowing in the province would touch 11,00,000 hectares against a target of 10,31,000 hectares and it is hoped that the wheat output would also surpass the target.

“We are expecting some 3.8 million tons of wheat production against a target of 3.682 million tons”, he said. “Fruits of bumper wheat output may go down the drain if provincial food department failed to set up wheat buying centres immediately”, he warned.

A spokesman of the food department Muneer Jalbani claimed that efforts had been made to purchase polypropylene (PP) and gunny bags and procurement centres would be set up in wheat growing districts before March 15.

He said that 1.3 million tons of wheat procurement target has been set for the food department for 2011 Rabi season, which would be achieved before June.

He said that a tender was floated on January 29, for buying 10 million PP bags (50kg each), which would be distributed among the wheat growers by April 1.

However, some officials in the food department hardly see any possibility of the wheat procurement centres to become operational before April 1.

“The buying centres are established only after the Sindh government issues orders. But, so far no orders have been made to the food department”, they argued.

Mr Jalbani, however, insisted that the food department was determined to make 350 procurement centres operational by March 15, in lower Sindh and by April 1, in upper Sindh districts.